Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Between Post and Forfeit and Other Notes from the Road, with Alan Timothy Lunceford, Mel Stevens, and This Blogger. Guest Blog by Alan and Benjamin

Tim, Mel  and this blogger on the way back home. 

Participating in our democracy. 

"The New Yorkers: “I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they've ever questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn't know, because I won't ever dare ask that question.”― Dylan Thomas. Photo and caption  by TW Collins at Supreme Court of the United States.October Washington
The New Yorke“I believe in New Yorkers. Whether they've ever questioned the dream in which they live, I wouldn't know, because I won't ever dare ask that question.”The New Yorker

Just before Tim's arrest CREDIT: Todd Collins 9/11/2019
"“Brown and Black, we won’t go Back” was our chant." 

Mel zapping  Clinton and the Matthew Shepard political funeral when I first met Mel.  
Tim is ubiquitous, whether at the Whitney speaking out about HIV and memory, 
or in  solidarity for  imprisoned gay-Chechens,

Driving  to  DC, Tim pulled out a laptop and  started writing notes, taking a few snap  shots. We’ve been here before,  the trip to DC  to pay a fine after a big action.

Why do we have to go?

Arrested! Processed!

Can’t pay the fine after processing.

Wait a day to post and forfeit.

The day we  got arrested the US Supreme Court took up three civil cases.

The anti’s want to take GLBTQI Civil Rights away for Good?
2019 is feeling like Germany 1938 vents Tim, wondering who would be next?
Who? Women, people of color, the disabled, and more?

Ben and Melvyn have to pay fines, Tim along for the  ride. He had had been arrested six weeks before for Civil Disobedience  when the US Supreme Court took up Brown versus the Board of Education again outside Senator Grassley’s office. This would, if enacted, separate black kids in school from White Kids in School.

Ben first saw Mel on TV twenty-two years prior, when Mel zapped president Clinton at the HRC dinner.  They were arrested together the following  October  during the Matthew  Shepard political funeral.

“I remember Keith sleeping  in  Charles’ lap like a pieta,” recalls Mel. Its hard to watch it all change. Yet some things don’t change, 21-years-later another bust for queer civil rights.

Too many arrested!

The Capital police give all protestors Bail and Forfeit tickets (like Traffic ticket for conscience).
Normally, you would be in jail overnight and the cops keep you for morning arraignment.  These things change. Now it’s bail and forfeit of $50.  It’s a who’s who on how the Civil Disobedience arrested are handling paying fines. You must pay it yourself. No proxy’s.

When to pay the $50 to police?  Some spent the night.

We gotta get out DC.

We take the bus back to New York to pay the fine at a later date.

The Capital Police set up a 24-hour-payment allowance near Union Station, behind the US Capital to be all paid by October 24th.

Ben, Melvyn and Timothy will return on Friday, October 18.

Timothy had spent the night there last year, in jail with 23 others. They had been handcuffed to a conference table and with Timothy’s dry mouth, Capital police gave Timothy one bottle of water that night. When he asked for a refill, they put him in one of two stainless jail cells with a sink, toilet, and bed, just for telling Mike Pence “passage would kill thousands of Americans and me taking away healthcare for the 1%” as the Senate read the vote, 51-48 for the sham tax sham bill.

Timothy knew how to get to the jail in DC.

But first  we’d  have to get there.

Melvyn and Timothy wake up October 18 at 6:00 am.

Doing a few errands before leaving, walking the Service Dog Margarita, picking up sandwiches at a Greenwich Village Italian Shoppe, taking meds, leaving for the F Train to Ben’s in Brooklyn.

“F train services are on hold for police action” says the conductor.

It’s 7:40am! We look for information for alternate travel.  None! So we wait. 8:05 am, the F train arrives. It’s 8:26 am when we arrive at Bergin Street. Melvyn calls Ben. We walk to meet Ben, pile into his car, on our way to DC.

Across Staten Island, into New Jersey, and down 95, using Ben’s phone GPS. We laugh about the foolish punishment of Capital Police.  Travel over 500 miles to and from DC, 5 or 6 hours each way, on a nice day.  The road is full of jerks in cars and weaving and using other lanes to travel.  We’re listening  to NPR, talking impeachment and Democracy, the threat to Democracy, whether activists are pissing in the wind.  Are we doing  enough? Does it matter?

Now with the traffic congestion, its taking 5 hours. Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware. Lanes were filled to stoppage.  The service dog is sneezing.  We stop at the Chesapeake House  Sunoco and get drinks, food, go to the bathroom.

A couple of wrong turns, as we get close, travel through Northeast DC.  Through the suburban homes, past  the preppy Nazis, near Union Station and Timothy directs Ben to the right turn to drive up to the Capital Police. Ben asks if Timothy can get photos paying our fines. Tims more interested in not getting a parking ticket than a photo. A man approaches and says you can’t park here. Timothy says they are just paying their fines. He says move the car or you will get a ticket and tow.  The man, an immigrant, in a jacket saying Parking Sargent of Arms.  He tells Ben to move out of the area. Ben sees an open area at the bottom of the street. We park. Lots of white lines criss crossing here.  No signs. Ben and a Melvyn  leave and soon as they are out of sight, another immigrant security man approaches: “You can’t park here, you need to double park.”
“I don’t drive with my deafness and heart condition, they will be right back” Timothy says.  He says he doesn’t care, the car has to be moved. The man says he will drive back in a couple of minutes, working on delaying the ticket. The man returns and Tims says  his is leaving and trying to see why the car won’t start.
Meanwhile inside:
“Where’s your escort, you need an escort, you may have a gun” says the cop.
“I am here to pay a fine, I wouldn’t think of bringing a gun to a police station,” says Mel.  "I don’t even like guns.” Struggling with Democracy is tough.
“Okay, just pay your fine,” says the officer.  Melvyn gets out first.  Ben comes in with his escort behind the two men from  Housing Works paying their fines.
Melvyn returns with the keys.  He gets in the driver seat. He starts the car to move it and the emergency brake is on. Melvyn can’t find the parking brake in the model. The Capital police move back and says move it now.  So Melvyn asks a couple of passerby’s. Timothy gets out and finds a federal worker man walking down the hill and asks him to look at the car as we need to move the car with the security personnel. He approaches Melvyn and Melvyn gets out he looks and finds a emergency brake at the top of the floorboard.  Shows Melvyn, we thank him for his assistance. We move the car and proceed to Union Station roundabout.  This is the first time Melvyn has driven, since he turned a rental on its side.  Timothy sprang his shoulder in the accident.  Now Melvyn was driving. Hooray!

Ben texts he’s out.

With the drive delay, we scrape lunch plans and decide to get out of DC and back to NYC!   “Democracy (Not)” is strangling us.  We drive out New York Avenue.

Melvyn and  Ben relate fine stories.

Only 277 miles to Brooklyn  from Washington.  We start talking again. Timothy recites two monologues of his, in a new play he and Melvyn are in, that will premier on November 10 at Stonewall Inn, Upstairs in Manhattan.  Julius Bar – The Philosophers – A Revue.

“I’ve always been an activist,” reads Tim. “When I was ten, my parents asked me what I wanted to do for the community. I said, I wanted to help disabled kids just like me…”

Melvyn read his lines as the Artist/Superman role in the play. “The sense of volume pursuing movement….There are two kinds of painters those who create space those who put objects on paper. Enter the eye to feed the mind...Shift and continuance of motion…

We stop at the Maryland House, walking the Service dog, before riding home.

Bass Centric Music for Tim, Waylon Jennings for Ben on the radio. Timothy plays Together in Electric Dreams, asking  Ben to listen  to the words:

I only knew you for a while
I never saw your smile'til it was time to go
Time to go away (time to go away)Sometimes it's hard to recognize
Love comes as a surprise
And it's too late
It's just too late to stay
Too late to stay (Love never ends)We'll always be together
However far it seems(Love never ends)We'll always be together
Together in electric dreams Because the friendship that you gave

And tells a story of his lover Stephen who died of AIDS.  After Stephen was gone, Tim found a note reminding him to  listen and remember. The song was for him. Ben says it is one of his favorites from long ago.

Timothy recalls his first trip to New York City. Attending University  of Georgia in Athens, he was dating Clair, the sound for the B-52’s. On a whim, the two travel to CBGB’s in NYC, wandering through the lower East Side of Manhattan 17. At years of age, a year after finishing treatment for AML Leukemia, to come from Atlanta and Athens, to New York, the experience changed Timothy. Timothy still stays in touch with Fred and a little with Kate..

Chatting about the South, road trip music, and our lives, Bn is thirteen years younger than Timothy. Both lived in Georgia as children.  Ben went to Texas and Timothy  stayed in Atlanta, until school took him to California schools when he was 15.

The First Action Tim remembers was un September of 1987 when ACT UP protested the inadequacies of the newly-formed Presidential Commission on AIDS. It met for the first time in Washington, DC. Tim did not give testimony,  but sat in witness that day as other Act Up members did.

Tim’s been with the group ever since that action in September of 1987, using the group as a tool for advocacy.  As he told  Sarah Schulman in  the ACT UP oral history project Interview 7 April 28, 2010:

“I had my first friend who lived down in the Southern Tier, but he was a gay man living in Rochester. And he got this disease that he totally withdrew into his apartment, and we couldn’t understand about Dean; what had happened to Dean. And then he died. And his parents wouldn’t tell any of us what happened. Before it was over with, then we had other friends that were getting sick, but people weren’t talking about AIDS. My work caused me to come to New York City periodically. And I’d be down here, and all of a sudden, I started seeing messages about these men in Chelsea that were setting up a hotline. And I contacted Paul Popham. And then I ended up getting involved in GMHC, right at the beginning of GMHC. And Michael Shernoff asked me to join the 300 Men. And I happily, with the time I had in New York City, participated in those interviews. And then I did this study. Andy Humm was in my group. I became friends with lots of men in the community, and then I understood the urgency of HIV and AIDS, as it was beginning to be called, in ’83. And I’d go back to Rochester, and it was this whole hush-hush. And I think that set up a lot of the, I guess, internal anger that I had. Because in ’86, I helped found Dining for Dollars in Rochester, with the local AIDS group. And we would have an evening where people dined at home and then all showed up at a downtown mall. And I organized silent raffles there, for fund-raisers; and started helping with the local group. But down here, in ’87 — let’s see — I was at a candlelight vigil. And I met a guy named David. And I told him about how I was feeling about HIV, and concerned about getting it, and didn’t understand all my friends dying around me, and things like that. And he said, you know, there’s this new group that just got started, like two months ago. And he said, they’re really tackling it, and whatever. And he said he had been to a couple of meetings, but he wasn’t part of it. But he said, you know, they meet on Monday nights; seven or eight o’clock, and you can find out about them. And it was maybe a couple weeks after gay pride that year that I ended up going to ACT UP. And pretty much, that changed my life, because I was still going back to Rochester. And I had all this ACT UP mentality. And there, I was considered just a little too in-your-face. I remember – there was a problem. AIDS Community Housing — not AIDS Community Housing; Community Health Network, a local clinic there — one of the doctors had called me, and said, we have a patient whofs got a problem with Blue Cross, and is there anything you can do to help him get some of his AIDS meds, and things like that? And so all I did was pick up the phone. I was hearing at the time. And I picked up the phone, and I called this woman that was at Blue Cross, handling his account. And I said, he’s a friend of mine. And I don’t understand there’s these two drugs he needs, and you’re saying they’re not on your formulary, and this man needs Timothy Lunceford Interview 8 April 28, 2010 them, and whatever. And she says, well, we just don’t have any provision, and all that. And then I said, well, I’m in ACT UP New York. And we don’t like it when insurance companies deny treatment for people, and whatever. And before it was over, that turned into a whole mess, because she called the doctor and said that I had threatened to bring busloads of ACT UPpers…Blue Cross knew about ACT UP. And she said that I threatened to bring Blue Cross – lots of people up there for this guy. And she said that they were going to give him the medicine, but she didn’t like that I called her. And that’s when I knew that ACT UP could make a difference in people with AIDS’ lives. I had never threatened her. I had always been as nice as I am. But she had some information that I didn’t have. And it really changed her mind about taking care of this patient.  Paul Popham - A sweetheart. He had an idea – Nathan Kolodner was in the group. Basically, they saw where government, community, and everything wasn’t tackling what was happening in New York City. And by setting up this hotline, I think it helped a lot of people. And I don’t think they had any idea that GMHC would be what it is today. But I think it was more concerned about helping a fellow brother.”

Mel joined the group after  his lover of three decades died in  the early 1990’s, spending nearly a decade working  closely with the group.  He recalls office takeovers and arrests with the group. On one occasion going through the central booking system, he watched a fight between members of a gang, a man getting beaten up, sitting holding his head, still regretting doing  more for the man.  On another occasion, he was  with the ever well dressed Bob Kohler, a veteran of the Stonewall Riots.  “Why are you in here?” one  man asked Bob. “Murder,” Kohler  hissed  back.”

The group has  gone through its ups and downs.

Mel and Tim have been through a lot  of it,  from the glory days to five people showing  up at  a meeting.

We talk about it all.

Its 6:59 pm we get rerouted by the google map app, Delaware road 2 miles, 495 to 295.

“Elements of the craft”, more lines from Melvyns part in the play.  We listen to cds. Ben finds Bass Music for Timothy’s Deafness. Bass Centric Music. We listen to the radio trying to find some state of Nation news.

Timothy pulls out his iPad Pro and plays Basshunter, a Norwegian singer DJ from his playing on Ibezia island, Spain.

More traffic. Another pee break.

We stop at the Maryland House, walking the Service dog and picking up dinner.

We talk marching bands music and formations. And gossip about SexPanic!

Wondering about a friend’s sex  life; if he moved  to NYC in 1976, trying to figure out the number of times he had sex. We calculate days, weeks, years, and other indulges. 204,000, more than my guess of 100,000.

Trumps acting chief of staff is blagging about quid pro quo on the radio.

We don’t think he will be acting COS long much longer.

Mel talks of listening to the radio as a child and names of shows he heard.

Timothy asks Ben, “How far?”
“20 minutes.”

“Be sure to grab all your stuff,” Ben asks, recalling all the stuff Tims left behind  through the years of these trips.

Tim  and Melvyn  jump off at Carroll Street, taking the  MTA F train around 10 pm, arriving home around 11pm.

Ben park.

All back in sync in New York.

Later that night, Tim emails to ask Ben  for his wallet, left in the car.

Press Release
Julius’ The Philosophers is a series of scenes and monologues written and performed by patrons of Julius’ bar that reflect life and death and the human spirit to laugh and survive through connections to community and with a little drink.
Unique comic monologues are provided by Jimmy Tomkins, author of The Wicked Education of Henry Halliday depicting the absurdity of a movie where Joan Crawford is in love with a man who throws knives with his feet and a blue crocheted funeral.  The history of AIDS activism from the early days of ACT UP NY to the present Rise and Resist movement is detailed in the monologues of Melvyn and Timothy Stevens. Their ongoing commitment to activism is an important true story in this revue. Humorous interactions of patron’s worship of Liza and hatred of Trump are included in the writing of David Hillman and Ray Barr. The opening and ending of The Philosophers is framed by scenes written by Bronwyn Rucker, reflecting a poetry and surreal idealism on art with the character of Superman Artist portrayed by the actor and activist Melvyn Stevens.
Ray Barr plays the Bartender. David Luckett is a lawyer.  John Philip plays the Chaplain. Karolina Grabowska is a young lesbian and Joe DiPinto plays the Writer. Jimmy Tomkins performs his original comedy and Melvyn Stevens and Timothy Stevens tell their stories in their own monologues.   This is a rehearsed reading under the direction of Bronwyn Rucker who also plays the part of the social worker.
Julius’ The Philosophers will be performed On Sunday November 10 at 3:30 at The Stonewall Inn 53 Christopher Street. There is a suggested donation of $10 and a 2-drink minimum.

For further information please contact Bronwyn Rucker  www.bronwynrucker.com or email at downmelt@aol.com.

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